Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Photos From East Lansing

I really fell down on the job of finishing this post about my trip to East Lansing. The upshot of it was that Y and I went to the library and worked and talked a lot. It does not seem momentous, but it did somehow change things in my mental landscape. It made me feel worthwhile and appreciated.

At about mid-afternoon, Y went home to take care of her daughter. I stayed on at the library, working very hard. I did, however, seize my one opportunity to walk around and look at things. Below are pictures I took during a half-hour walking around break I decided to take. I was worried about getting lost in the town-sized campus, so I decided just to make a circuit around the library (clock-wise).

One of the most noticeable land-marks was a big tower:

Here is a picture of the library, which was spacious and new-feeling, and had pretty reflective windows:

As I went around the corner, my attention was immediately captured by a river that was flowing by behind the library. It was a good-sized river!

There was a bridge over it, whence I took this picture. On the other side of the bridge was a stadium I think.

Back to the back-side of the library, where there was an awesome botanical garden. It was all under snow of course, but it must be really gorgeous in the summer:

Two plants from the botanical garden, some winter-hardy collard-type green, and something with white fluff.

Finally, on the far side of the library from where I'd started, ornamental grasses:

And a dry fountain, in which the snow had been shaped (raked? stamped down? shoveled?) into an impressively clean spiral pattern. It was quite startling and very nice really, like a zen garden.

It was pretty cold, so after one circuit around the library I was quite happy to get back inside. I worked really hard, both that evening and the next morning. Y came to the hotel again, and we discussed some questions I had as well as chatting more generally about the field we are both in. And then the shuttle driver took me back to the train station.

The trip was really worthwhile, even if the hotel was a bit pricey. (It WAS very comfortable anyway, good place to work.) I came back feeling a lot more confident.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Morning in East Lansing

It's not so often that I see the sun rise anymore. When I first met Pocket of Bolts, our apartments both had east-facing views (we were practically neighbors!), so we saw the sunrise very often, nearly every morning. None of the places we've lived in since have been like that though.

East Lansing must be very far north, because I had showered and dressed and gone downstairs to an expensive "continental" breakfast in the hotel restaurant, and come back to my room--and only then was it rising. Lazybones winter sun, early to bed, late to rise.

Here's another picture of the sunrise, with me in it because of the reflection. Pity about the window frame, but oh well. Still it gives a sense of the colors involved.

I must say I'm quite fond of this little hotel room. Everything here seems very solid. The wood is actually wood. It feels solid, like it was built to last. The walls feel solid too, and the wallpaper is a tasteful fibrous sort of textured stuff that reminds me of expensive writing paper. I have yet to turn on the flat, wide-screen TV, but it certainly minimizes the amount of space the TV takes up.

Oh and I forgot to mention the shower thing--it worked a lot better than I would have expected. It turns out that a wrap-around shower-curtain pretty much keeps all the water it. A separated-off shower stall turns out to be an unnecessary luxury. Despite my trepidations, the process went pretty much as usual, without a hitch.

But of course what you really want to know about is Y, my friend and professor from Beijing whom I was here to meet. She came to my room sometime after nine. I was a little nervous, but as soon as I saw her again, we both were very warm and friendly. Fortunately, the room was tidy enough and we each perched on one the beds and had quite a long chat. I bit the bullet and described my dissertation project to her. She seemed to think it was interesting, though she remarked on what a departure it was from what we had been talking about before. But not in a bad way.

She described the way she feels here surrounded by an academic culture very different from her own. It's such a shock, she said, and makes her doubt the worth of her own work. How well I understood that feeling!! I had felt exactly the same way in Beijing. Having at least some sense of both sides, I talked with her for some time about just how those differences in academic culture played out, some of the ways I had found of conceptualizing them, and how she might reconcile what she's doing to "our" way of doing things. We talked about her current research (I thought it was fascinating, and totally beyond anything I'd be able to do in half a lifetime, probably!), and how she might present that to a Western audience.

Finally, we got to talking about the project at hand, the translation/book proposal I had come here to help her with. But here I must leave you for now, because I want to do put in some more work on it before I get too tired. I leave you with just this picture of me lounging around in the hotel room. Many more pictures and thoughts from this afternoon still to come in the next post.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I Go to East Lansing

Suddenly things came together for me to make a trip to East Lansing to meet with a professor I had known in Beijing. In general I am timid about arranging things, and deeply reluctant to disrupt my familiar routines. But suddenly I found myself taking the initiative, making all the arrangements, and hopping on an Amtrak, all within a 48 hour time frame. Sometimes you feel like the universe is pointing a finger at you and saying, Okay, now or never. Go to it!

I had given my final exam this morning, and left for the train straight from school (after a few hours of errand-running and general bustle). Here are some pictures I made out the train window. It was a dreary drizzly day, and got dark very early. Of course none of the pictures are entirely in focus, but there's always something wonderful about catching a tiny moment of landscape as it hurtles past.

It's like a story-book world. The photo quality isn't good, but somehow they seem to have more feeling and interest in them than photos of things that are still. No?

The hotel sent a little shuttle to come pick me up at the train station. The driver was very nice and told me things about MSU, such as that it is practically self-sufficient and like a town unto itself. I had forgotten that MSU is the gargantuan one! I hope things work out all right with meeting my professor tomorrow. Clearly there's no just "wandering over to the library" the way I had kind of envisioned. I mean I had downloaded a campus map. I just hadn't realized the scale...

Here is a picture of my little hotel room for Pocket of Bolts. It is not a very good picture, but I will try to take some more interesting ones tomorrow. It is a small room but comfortable. It has the feeling of being nice quality but spartan. I suppose that's appropriate given the mascot of MSU (the spartan, ha ha). There are two interesting things about it: it has a flat screen TV, and there is no bathtub. The shower is just a corner of the bathroom that has a drain in the floor, and divided off just by a curtain, not even by a glass wall. So everything in the bathroom is quite water-proof. But I'm not complaining. It's comfortable. The sheets are soft. There's a little desk and nice-smelling soap, and wireless of course.

I miss Pocket of Bolts! But aside from that, I am doing pretty well. My professor called me a while ago, and we arranged to meet here at 9 tomorrow, so I had better turn in. I didn't get much sleep last night, and I am quite weary!

But stay tuned for my further adventures.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Thanksgiving of Two Families

An Essay in Mostly Pictures

My parents' flight was canceled, and they had to be rerouted, and instead of having a relaxing afternoon with them and a pleasant dinner, I didn't get to see them until one in the morning, when they straggled in very weary and relieved to have arrived.

Pocket of Bolts' mom, however, arrived the next day and had no trouble with her flight. Here are the four of them bundled up to go out on our first night all together.


We don't usually get the paper, but my dad likes reading it in the morning. As it turns out, Pocket of Bolts does too.


The whole troupe came down to our school to see our offices and classrooms. Here is my mom and me at a restaurant I really like. Love this picture; wish it hadn't come out so blurry.

Here is just a random picture of Pocket of Bolts looking very tall in our red living room. Mostly our high-ceilinged apartment makes us look dwarfish, but this must have been some funny trick of perspective. Doesn't he look jolly?

We worked hard on this puzzle. It was a good ice-breaker. It was a thousand pieces, and depicted some kind of peaceable kingdom jungle scene in which the lion lay down with the lamb (but only the lion got a good night's sleep, as the saying goes). Pocket of Bolts and I found it particularly addictive. Mom and dad are old hands. PoB's mom didn't think she would enjoy it, but eventually she got into it too.


It was a white Thanksgiving.


In the middle of the day we all went for a walk down to the lake. The snow had mostly melted by then.


Then we were tired. I crawled in under the futon on the floor (on which we'd been sleeping, having given all our beds to guests).


Everyone else made themselves useful in the kitchen, and produced a magnificent feast. (I like how the picture of me standing next to the table makes me look like I was responsible for the feast! Actually, I hardly lifted a finger.)


Pocket of Bolts' mom rolling up her sleeves to tackle the great mountain of dishes.


The two moms sitting side by side, followed by my dad chatting with Pocket of Bolts' mom. Note that this was the first time our parents had met each other.


My bro said this picture of me in my pjs made me look about fourteen. My Chinese friend said it made me look elegant and cultured. Different visual codes are so funny.


Pocket of Bolts' mom left early on Friday morning. Also, it got cold and some water that had collected in our deck chairs froze, capturing a stray leaf.


My parents stayed on, and while dad rested, mom and I went all over town trying on wedding dresses. One of the places we went was the Macy's bridal salon, which proved to be way too fancy for us. However, I did try on this dress which had an incredibly beautiful train. And also we saw the gorgeous ceiling of the old Marshall Fields building. We thought the Macy's very poorly laid out--bad signage, illogical arrangement. It was a frustrating place to get around in and I can see why Chicagoans are so resentful of its taking over from Marshall Fields.


Well, that's my photo-essay on Thanksgiving. Sorry it is so belated! But the whole thing was grand and exhausting and came right before I had to start doing a lot of work for the end of the term... so I'm only now getting to it...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Post Thanksgiving Vocabulary

Well, I have not posted in quite some time due first to the flurry of preparation surrounding the parents' Thanksgiving visit, and then to their visit itself. It was quite a time! I will publish some pictures when I have the energy. For now, as I try to force my brain back toward something resembling a dissertation groove, here are some more words from the freerice vocabulary test game, which I then looked up in the OED.

= dangerous (variant of perilous!), apparently quite an old word, with examples in the 14th and 15th centuries. How usage can trick us! I would have called it as some French-derived word having to do with speaking (French: parler, to speak) but that was totally wrong.

mazzard = sweet cherry; a small, dark cherry of Devon origin, the fruit of a variety of the wild cherry or gean, Prunus avium. Origins of the word unknown, possibly related to mazard, a bowl or drinking vessel. Early spelling variations include mazar, mazer, mazard, and massard.

coir = coconut fiber, used for making ropes, cordage, matting, etc. Origin: Malayalam (or Malayali, one of 22 official languages in India, this one spoken in the South Indian state of Kerala) words: kayar (cord), and kayaru (to be twisted). Also, the thread or cordage made from that coconut fiber.

illation = inference (from Latin, illationem, n. of action from inferre, illatum: to bring in)--drawing a conclusion from premises, or the conclusion thus drawn. Also (and this is more what I would have guessed): an Ecclesiastical term referring to a Eucharistic Preface to the Tersanctus, known as the Preface in the Roman and Anglican liturgies.

= prophetic (form of Latin fatum [fate] + dic [weak root of dicere, to speak]). So, to speak about fate.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Research Excursion

On Sunday I was working on my dissertation. This is a fairly commonplace occurrence, if not as commonplace as it should be. I was at one of those dangerous transition points between one section and another, when I'm always tempted to just set it down for a week or so because I've more or less finished the one thing but haven't yet got my hand in with the next one. But I knew I should really get my hand in.

Suddenly the passage I was looking at reminded me of a note I'd taken from a book I'd looked at nearly three years ago. Frantic shuffle through notes--yep, there it was, a citation of a citation, the ultimate goal being a 1983 article in a Chinese-language periodical. Library catalogs: yes, U of C had it.

I am allowed to use the U of C library, though not to check out books and I have to get a day pass each time. There may be a limit to the number of days too, but I haven't discovered it. It's rare for me to go down there because it's such a public transportation pain in the ass.

Apparently on purpose, Hyde Park is cordoned off from the rest of the city. I went there once last year and was very sketched out. But then, I'd made the mistake of taking the most direct route from home, which meant I approached from the west. This time I took the best route from work which, rather paradoxically (since my work is west of my home) meant I approached from the east.

From the east, Hyde Park doesn't have the feeling of an invisibly walled-off compound facing a ghetto. It just seems like a small college town, autumn leaves falling peacefully, bright-colored chrysanthemums, kids playing on the sidewalks, highly intellectual-looking people strolling by and chattering in a large variety of languages. I got off the bus at not quite the right place and ended up going for a long walk, but I found the library eventually.

Once there I was immediately distracted by a great book-sale. Ten dollars lighter and at least ten pounds heavier (if one considers the combined system of me and my backpack), I tracked down the article I wanted and got substantial sections from two other books I'd been meaning to look at as well.

This afternoon I went to one of my favorite coffee-shops, the Bourgeois Pig, and had a look at the article. It was only one page, and I had been worried that it would be too insubstantial. But you can say a lot in one page of Chinese, densely type-set at that. One page of pure research gold, at least as far as that section was concerned. I not only got my hand in, I wrote the whole section, just over a thousand words.

In case you haven't noticed my Diss-o-meter at right, have a look at it! You too can watch my late-blooming dissertation grow at about the same speed as grass. Okay, maybe not that fast, given how often my dad has to mow the lawn. Still, a 1000 word day is nothing to sneeze at. If I do that every day, I even have a chance of meeting my goal.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Free Rice

Word buffs, try this cute time-wasting activity! A friend of mine sent me the link to a multiple-choice style vocabulary test, where the sponsoring organization will give ten grains of rice to the third world for every word you get right. It's here, but watch out, it's addictive. Keep an eye on the "vocabulary level" because that's the fun challenge for yourself. I'm having a hard time getting above 50, and it's fun to try. But mostly it's just amazing how many wacky words there are out there.

For fun, I made a list of the ones I got wrong and then started slowly doing some research in the OED on them. I bet the free rice people won't mind if I share the ones I looked at so far:

cerumen = earwax (from Latin cera, wax)--also the French word for wax--anatomical

isinglass = mica (or a firm whitish translucent gelatin gotten from the air-bladders of fish, especially sturgeon, and used for making jellies, clarifying liquors, or making glue) a name for mica because of its resemblance to the fish gelatin. Apparently a corruption of the obsolete Dutch word, huisenblas.
commove = disturb

= happen again (more literally, of wounds, to become raw again, from Latin crudescere, to beome raw)--a wound breaking out again, and extensionally, and idea recurring, connotation of pathology

lam = thrash (etymologically related to "lame" --to cause someone to be lame--but usually used in reference to beating)--colloquial/vulgar/slang

= sand flea: A small species of flea (Pulex or Sarcopsylla penetrans), found in the West Indies and South America. The female burrows beneath the skin of the human feet (and sometimes of the hands) and becomes greatly distended with eggs, which are sometimes hatched there, causing itching, and painful sores. (Word is some corruption of a West Indian name, possible related to the Spanish chigo--small) Also called chigger or jigger by English-speakers.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Vegan for a Week

Pocket of Bolts and I have decided to be vegan for a week. We've talked about it occasionally--it's part of our great long-term food experiment project, namely, trying to find the diet that makes us feel the best and also allows us to lose weight. We tried Diet for a Small Planet type eating, complementary proteins, etc.--what we tended to call Malthusian vegetaraianism, being a vegetarian because it's more ecologically responsible to be lower on the food chain. It was tasty, but unbelievably fattening! Lots of milk and cheese.

One of these weeks, we're going to try being straight-up healthful omnivores (chicken breast etc.), but we decided to try being vegans first. Believe it or not, it's not actually all that hard. We eat a lot of Asian food anyway, which is readily vegan-able. I also bought a vegan cookbook, Garden of Vegan, from our favorite bookstore, Unabridged. Our weekly menu planning, which we've been doing for several months, really helps. We have meals lined up already. We just don't line up anything that has milk or cheese in it.

Lunch is tricky, because if we don't pack one we are really stuck. Also it's hard giving up milk in my tea. We both miss cheese a lot. But overall, it's not nearly as hard as I had imagined it would be. And we are losing weight, despite gorging ourselves at every meal. I think part of the thing is that all of the usual snacks are off limits! And when you're exercising will-power as part of a larger project, it's somehow easier than exercising will-power on a case-by-case basis.

I think ultimately our ideal diet (socially, financially, and health-wise) is probably a slightly flexible one--largely vegetarian or vegan at home, milk/cheese/eggs/meat with company or in restaurants. But in some ways it's only easy giving up cheese and milk chocolate because it's a) temporary and b) absolute. As I said, the case-by-case decisions are more difficult.

One think about the vegan experiment--it sure does feel clean. Not to say I'm eating all organic or natural or anything. There is an incredible variety of chemicals in Coffee-mate, my milk substitute in tea, and in some of the other things we eat. Still, overall I feel cleaner. And although my metabolism seems a little lower than normal (and much lower than when I eat meat), I don't feel like I have less energy. It's more like the reserves are spread more evenly, if that makes any sense.

Anyway, more on this later!

Last Weekend

So sorry for the lack of updates. I think part of the problem was that last weekend was kind of crazy, and so I've felt a bit behind ever since. Last weekend:

Friday night we went out with one of my favorite friends, let's call him Kami-tsukae, because he is an absolute origami master. He deserves his own post, so more on him later. But anyway, we went out for pizza and beer and a whole lot of talking. It's hard to even say all the great things about Kami-tsukae, but at the same time he's a troubled soul. Being a philosopher (one of PoB's classmates, originally), he has the knack of abstracting his own problems into philosophical positions. You might say this isn't such a good thing to do, but it does enable one to talk about personal things without actually getting into personal details. Good for us over-intellectualized academic types. We have decided that the three of us our going to do "Bible-study"--more on this soon!

Saturday night, we were invited to a banquet in Chinatown. It was a fund-raising banquet for the Chinese-American Museum of Chicago ("the midwest's only Chinese-American museum!"), and I believe it was a $100/plate type dinner. Pocket of Bolts and I were invited (as in, we didn't pay) through a connection with my work. I managed to get us a ride with some other people, and PoB was very patient as I chattered away with them in Chinese. Indeed, he was overall a 5 star boyfriend that night. It's impossible than anything could have been less vegetarian friendly than the meal we ate (Cantonese food), so he'd decided in advance that'd he'd be willing to be an omnivore for one day. (He liked the duck and beef, but was less keen on the squid!)

There was also a lion dance (I'll update with photos if I can get them off my phone), and some live music. The bands they had engaged to provide the music kept urging people to dance. Sure the place had a nice dance-floor, but who's going a rich, shy Chinese person to go out and dance in a brightly lit room with several hundred other rich, shy Chinese people watching them? It just wasn't happening. Finally, a very distinguished looking middle-aged couple took the floor and it was about all I could stand. I persuaded PoB to come out onto the floor too, despite his insistence that he wasn't sure what to do. I told him we'd fake it. And so we did. Now tell me, am I or am I not actually marrying Prince Charming!? Because what was his comment when we and just one other couple were determinedly faking an ability to dance under bright lights in front of several hundred rich, shy Chinese people? He said to me, "You're fun!"

Because isn't it fun to step up and be a star when no one else is willing to? Isn't that the meaning of seizing the day?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Gifting Meme

Here is an interesting blog meme that I have lately seen going around. I pondered it for some time and decided I wanted to try it (despite potential sketchiness?).


By the end of the calendar year, I will send a tangible, physical gift to each of the first five people to comment here. The catch? Each person must make the same offer on her/his blog.

I was thinking about whether this could potentially lead to exponentially increasing gifts exploding like an algal bloom out through the blogosphere. One would suppose that two factors might tend to damp this down though. One would be the lack of five willing commenter/recipients--possible fate for my own offer I'd think--and another would be reciprocal gifting, because surely you don't have to make the offer twice.

Am I overthinking this? I suspect so.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Halloween Goth

So I always wanted to try being a Goth. You know, just once. Well Halloween's the time to try that sort of thing out right? So I cobbled together something resembling a Goth costume. I was unfortunately lacking in death-themed jewelry, and I couldn't quite reconcile myself to some sort of paling product, but I did black lipstick and nail-polish, even though I am pretty bad at applying both. Well I did my best.

And yes, I did go around looking like this all day, including in my class. They were at least mildly amused I think. None of them have ever even seen me in a skirt, I think. I tried to do a lesson that was on the fun side, though their energy is quite low due to midterms and post midterm slump. I also brought candy for them, which they seemed to like, and scary big fuzzy tarantulas as prizes for Chinese-character bingo.

I didn't do anything in the evening. A long work-day ahead of me and a long work-day behind me--I just wanted to sleep. But I did take these silly pictures. I know that real Goths are skinnier and sicklier but I did my best. I do think from the right angle I have a slight resemblance to Helena Bonham Carter as crazy evil witch in the last Harry Potter movie. :)